If it feels like every game of MLB’s new season features a thrilling new face, well, you’re not imagining things. The 2022 crop of rookies opening with big-league clubs is actually historic.
As The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh showed this week, more highly ranked prospects made their debut in this season’s first week than in any previous non-strike season on record. The breadth of the noteworthy debuts also stands out: They included three of the consensus top five prospects in the sport, a long-awaited flamethrower and a hotly pursued Japanese star. And that didn’t even include the rookie whose preternatural bat-to-ball ability may have made the biggest impression in the season’s first week.
With so many new names to know, we thought it would be good to rank the nine most eye-catching rookies so far in this eye-catching-est season of rookies.
1. Seiya Suzuki, Chicago Cubs outfielder
After whacking 38 homers for the Hiroshima Carp and leading NPB’s Central League in batting average in 2021, Suzuki announced he’d be heading to MLB. Projection systems loved the 27-year-old from the jump, instantly viewing him as one of the top 25 hitters in the majors thanks to a sturdy blend of power and patience. So far, he’s looked the part.
Suzuki is pacing the Cubs offense with three homers — including two in one game — and an approach that has netted nearly as many walks (five) as strikeouts (six).
Most notably, his hot start is grounded in reality. He’s obviously not going to hit .368, but his early success is backed up by strong plate discipline and Statcast figures. In other words, Suzuki’s loud introduction to the league appears to be signal, not noise.
2. Steven Kwan, Cleveland Guardians outfielder
The 5-foot-9 outfielder won a job on Cleveland’s opening day roster with one extremely special skill and proceeded to post the best opening weekend of … any major leaguer, rookie or not
That skill springs from an extremely relatable problem. “I remember when I was younger, every time I struck out, I would want to cry,” the 24-year-old Oregon State product recalled to FOX Sports. “So I think I just told myself, ‘I don’t like to cry, so I just won’t strike out.’”
His ability to just … do that is not relatable at all. Six games into his big-league career, Kwan has 10 hits, eight walks and one measly strikeout. He has swung and missed a grand total of twice — and one of those was technically a foul tip. Alongside former college teammate Nick Madrigal, he’s bringing an extreme contact-oriented style of hitting back into the mainstream. It’s not likely to be as productive over the long haul as Suzuki’s over-the-fence game, but it sure is interesting to watch.
3. Bobby Witt Jr., Kansas City Royals third baseman
The most acclaimed prospect to hit the league on opening day, Witt is still getting his sea legs at the plate, but has already managed two special moments with a go-ahead knock and a game-saving defensive play.
4. Matt Brash, Seattle Mariners pitcher
The relatively unheralded Brash won Seattle’s No. 5 starter job and then knocked Pitching Twitter on its butt with his first start. Brash has stuff that makes you curse involuntarily.
The fastball zips in at 99 and the breaking ball flies like some sort of possessed Frisbee. He had the White Sox lineup off balance for most of the game in his debut start. More eyes will be on him next time.
5. Julio Rodriguez, Seattle Mariners outfielder and 6. Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers first baseman
Sometimes the best prospects leap to the big leagues with such speed that they require more adjustment time than a more seasoned professional player like Suzuki or even Kwan. Rodriguez and Torkelson are both top five overall prospects in the game, and both are likely to start ripping baseballs around the park in due time.
Consider Rays phenom Wander Franco. After debuting in June of last season, he batted .239/.297/.402 through the end of July. From Aug. 1 on? He slashed .322/.388/.523.
You’ll want to be watching when these guys turn the corner.
7. Hunter Greene, Cincinnati Reds pitcher
It was a tougher road to the majors than expected for the former No. 2 overall pick, but the 6-foot-4 hurler who regularly lives in the triple digits with his fastball reached the majors as a starter. In his initial showing, the fastball was as hard as advertised, but also occasionally too straight to fool big-league bats.
8. Keibert Ruiz, Washington Nationals catcher
A key piece of the return for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, Ruiz opened the season with a pair of two-hit games. A switch-hitting catcher with excellent contact skills is a rare sight, and Ruiz could soon be a cornerstone of the Nationals.
9. Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins pitcher
OK, yes, Duran is a reliever. But he is also worth flipping the channel for. He’s throwing a completely ridiculous pitch called the “splinker.” Which is a splitter combined with a sinker. It goes 96 mph and drops like, well, a really good splitter.
10. Jose Siri, Houston Astros outfielder
Siri is already 26 and less of a “prospect” than the rest of these rookies, but after a long rise to the majors plagued by questions about his undisciplined approach and strikeout problems, his early performance deserves a nod.
As part of a center field timeshare for the Astros, he has shown some early signs that he’s channeling his aggression instead of letting it rule the roost. While it’s way too early to read too much into swing rates, Siri’s is down so much it almost has to be on purpose. The good use of his aggression, meanwhile, won Houston a game on Tuesday night. It’s always going to be a balancing act, but his power and speed could be a devastating combo.
Also exciting: Spencer Strider, Jeremy Pena, Seth Beer